I love teaching. I love that I’ve been in a classroom in some capacity for nearly three decades. So its safe to say I’ve seen a lot of changes in teaching, but nothing like what’s going on in America today.
I see education becoming revolutionized along with the culture we live in. Granted, it’s an exciting time to be in education, but it’s full of challenges. These challenges affect all teachers: new teachers, teachers “in the middle”, and teachers within a year or two of retiring (I now find myself in that last category). This revolution is so strong, it cries for a new name to call its professionals. Long gone are the out-dated demands and curriculum found in the one room school house my grandmother began teaching in in 1917. The teacher today knows and uses innumerable classroom techniques, teaching styles, and technology software and hardware. Today’s teacher also is adept at leading and/or participating in several committees, many of those include writing and developing new curriculum and assessments that motivate and challenge students to achieve their highest goals. And, like many professions, today’s teacher must do continuing education hours –but also must report, certify, and chronicle those hours lest they lose their credentials. I had already earned 180 clock hours in four years, even though the requirement was 120 in five years. Most of these hours were acquired during the summer. Finally, even the paycheck of today’s teacher is changing, as each year’s pay becomes tied to student growth.
Back in 2011 when I started hearing talk about immense changes coming up in testing (PARCC), teaching and curriculum, (Common Core), teacher evaluations (Charlotte Danielson) and merit pay, I saw the a glimpse into the future. Many of my peers did too, in fact, and began to retire, or sign up for the retirement package, and a year later, I did too, more as a result of the toll that constant stress was taking on my health. As another year passed, a big fight in the State government over teacher’s pensions heated up and made retirement funding look shaky for anyone who puts off retiring for too long. Add to that a decrease in state funding to local school districts that left some schools with no option but to release experienced teachers, make class sizes bigger, cut programs and extra-curricular activities, and close entire buildings. All of which makes it harder to teach, and makes it harder for students to learn. And this doesn’t even begin to address the children coming to school with greater needs than ever before. So, for many well meaning professionals, being a teacher was becoming less about the kids and more about the “job.”And that’s where it comes around full circle, back to the kids: The reason I got into teaching.
One of the first things about teaching that I fell in love with is that spark of understanding as it ignites in a child’s eyes, and spreads like sunlight across his face. When that child looks up at me and smiles and says, “Oh, now I get it!” I love that!
So I’ll embrace Common Core and I’ll use Charlotte Danielson’s methods with gusto. I’ll continue to address the issues of ADHD, ODD, BD, DD, ED, LD and many more acronyms that are attached to beautiful children with great needs. I’ll follow the IEP’s to a “T”, teach the CCSS and RTI, in the least restrictive environment using differentiating instruction within learning stations so they can go on to take the PSAT, oh wait, now it’s the PARCC. And I’ll smile when one little boy calls me mom by mistake, then gets a little red in the face when he realizes what he did; and I’ll shed tears when a little girl tells me her grandpa died, or her step-dad moved out, or she doesn’t see Mom now because she had to take a third job.
But you know, a teacher’s heart can only take so much. And as the year goes on, you can see the teachers’ heavy hearts reflected in their tired, concerned faces.
What keeps me going? The love, smiles, and success of my students, … and maybe an after-school dose of chocolate… a walk outdoors… talking with friends and family… loving my dogs… knowing I will get a summer break…and prayer. Lots and lots of prayer! Oh yeah, and coffee, lots of coffee–and an app on my phone that helps me fall back asleep after I wake up at 1 AM worrying about my “kids”!
So hear’s a quote and a story –my classy conclusion for today:
Carl Jung said, “An understanding heart is everything in a teacher, and cannot be esteemed highly enough. One looks back with appreciation to the brilliant teachers, but with gratitude to those who touched our human feeling.
I grew up in the country with few luxuries. Kind of like Laura Ingalls Wilder but in the “farm machinery” age and without any harrowing visits from bears. Work was hard from April through October, but when the long winter evenings finally arrived, my own adventures would begin. I would travel to England, Africa, or the depths of the sea, solve mysteries with The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, or ride on the back of Black Beauty galloping through the countryside. My family gave me the love of reading by filling the house with these adventuresome books.
I treasured those adventures.
I always gave my family the credit for my love of reading, but until now, have not given my first/second grade teacher, Mrs. J., enough credit for TEACHING me to read, with books like Dick and Jane, Puff and Spot. (I guess this really shows my age, yes?
It was back in the sixties, in fact, that Mrs. J. taught the standard curriculum of the day, in the average mid-century teaching style, using books, papers and pencils instead of the tablets, laptops, and interactive whiteboards of today. Regardless, Mrs. J. did teach students how to read. She taught with all her heart, and she taught trying to do her best she with what she knew, with what she was given. She didn’t want us to fail, and she didn’t want to fail us.
Yes, things have changed for today’s teacher, but what hasn’t changed is that any person with the heart of a teacher is capable of teaching the heart of success.